PARIS (Dispatches) -- French cement group Lafarge could yet be investigated for complicity in crimes against humanity over its dealings in Syria, after France’s highest court ruled on Tuesday that a previous decision to strike out that charge was flawed.
Lafarge, now part of Switzerland-listed Holcim, is under formal investigation in France over efforts to keep operations going at a factory in Syria after conflict erupted in 2011.
The company has previously admitted, following its own internal investigation, that its Syrian subsidiary paid terrorist groups, including Daesh, to help protect staff at the plant.
But it has rejected several charges against it as part of the French legal probe, including that it was complicit in crimes against humanity.
In late 2019, another court threw out that charge, saying Lafarge had not deliberately associated itself with those crimes. The Supreme Court said on Tuesday that a person or firm could be complicit by turning a blind eye to those crimes, even without actively taking part in them.
The Supreme Court said magistrates should now re-examine Lafarge’s request to have the charge thrown out. The charge of complicity could yet be re-instated as a result.
The investigation, under which Lafarge is also being probed for financing of a terrorist organization, could lead to a trial although no date has yet been set.
The ruling by the Court of Cassation marks a major setback for the company, which is accused of paying millions of euros to Daesh and other terrorist groups.
It does not mean however that the firm will automatically face trial on the most serious charge brought against a French company in recent memory over its actions in a foreign country.
The court instead referred the matter back to investigating magistrates to reconsider the charge and another charge of “endangering the lives of others”.
Apart from the company as a corporate entity, eight Lafarge executives, including former chief executive Bruno Laffont, are also charged with financing a terrorist group and, or, endangering the lives of the firm’s former Syrian staff.